Saturday, June 29, 2013

YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET: M. Resnais' playful masterwork to open in the L.A. area

When the latest film from that French giant of cinema, Alain Resnais, opened here in New York City at the beginning of this month, it received the usual, mostly sterling reviews that this fellow tends to collect (80% positive critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, with 70 % of the audience liking it). Yet the film -- rather deliciously titled YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET -- played but a single week at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan, then beat it out of town. The attendance was not, shall we say, staggering -- and nothing like it would have been back in the 1960s and 70s, when foreign films were in their heyday.

M. Resnais, shown at right, is now 91 years of age, and he just keeps cranking 'em out -- on a schedule, these days, of a film every three years. He's no Woody Allen (in terms of output, or most any other way) but this achievement remains pretty impressive, particularly since his films (with maybe the exception of I Want to Go Homewhich, over-the-top as it is, offers some bold fun) are remarkable, intelligent, surprising and varied. You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet (from here on to be known as YASNT) is all of these things -- and a good deal more. Combining techniques from theatre and film, the movie actually joins the two at times, distilling a particular kind of artifice that, I suspect, no one does better than the French.

The story, such as it is, involves a famous (and imaginary) playwright named Antoine d'Anthac (played by Denis Podalydès, shown at bottom, center) who had suddenly died. His last request is to the set of real actors, famous French men and women who have supposedly worked with and for this guy. They meet at his castle-like home high on a hill, where they learn that he has instructed them to critique a new production of his play Eurydice (actually the play by the famous mid-20th Century French playwright Jean Anouilh, together with material from another of his plays, Cher Antoine ou l'amour raté, with which I am not familiar).


These actors comprise some of the cream of the French stage and film scene, and because they all have played parts in this play previously, now, as they watch the young cast auditioning for the right to perform the play again by presenting a filmed rehearsal, the older crew begins to perform the play themselves -- with great relish and enthusiasm. Except they are far too old for the roles now. And yet, how very well do they perform them!

Anouilh's play is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice legend, but, ah, what a grown-up version of the myth we have here! It's moral, thought-provoking, moving, and fiercely intelligent as it nails everything from the male's destructive jealousy to the female's need for love at any cost. And in giving us an Orpheus and Eurydice shown in youth, middle age (Lambert Wilson and Anne Consigny, above) and the senior years (Sabine Azéma and Pierre Arditi, below), Resnais plays with age, theater, film and performance in quite wonderful ways.

Anouilh's play is also about death, the fear and the embracing of it, as well as about life and the fear and embracing of it, too.  (It gives that amazing actor Mathieu Amalric, below, the opportunity to play a superbly intelligent version of Hades, and he seems absolutely born to it.) In all, this is a wonderful work, combining that special French combination of drama, philosophy, romance and artifice. The film, in fact, should send audiences back to the original source.

Meanwhile, we have YASNT to content us. And if this short review makes the movie sound rather special, exotic and for sophisticated tastes -- it is. Being conversant with the classics will help, and if you are initially put off by the artifice, know that, as it moves along, the film grows stronger and more surprising and meaningful.

Resnais' set design of very theatrical rooms adds to the artifice, and his use of split screen  is absolutely first-rate, making the differences between the various Orpheuses and Eurydices shine all the stronger. TrustMovies is delighted that in Los Angeles, the film -- from Kino Lorber and running 115 minutes -- will be opening this coming Friday, July 5, at three venues: Laemmle's Royal, in West L.A., the Town Center 5 in Encino and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Click here, then scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Friday, June 28, 2013

THE CALL: Another smart (for awhile) and enjoyable (totally) film from Brad Anderson

Even when it goes off the track in its final quarter, THE CALL still manages to be a lot of fun. Prior to this it has been surpri-singly smart, as well as enjoyable. The latest from not-sung-enough (you can't exactly call him "unsung") director & sometimes writer, Brad Anderson (below), this movie continues his winning streak of creating a fascinating oeuvre in which each film is different (from the mainstream and from each other) but con-sistently engaging.

Take a look at Anderson's resume, and you'll see him jumping from genre to genre as though playing hopscotch, with nary a miss in the bunch. Some films work better than others, but all are well enough conceived and executed to qualify for quality stuff. Comedy to horror, thrillers to character studies, drama to rom-com-cum-sci-fi, Anderson has been there, done that and moved on.

With The Call, the filmmaker has his biggest budget for some time (maybe ever..?), and he's put it to good use. Here we are in the Los Angeles area 911 head-quarters, known as "The Hive," with Halle Berry (on poster, top, and bottom, center), as an operator who's very good but maybe gets a little too close to her callers. After one young woman is abducted and murdered while on the phone with our co-heroine, six months later another young woman (Abigail Breslin, below, right) is kidnapped, and the phone-call-cum-chase is on.

Step by step, the movie is surprisingly adept at keeping us nailed to the screen while making rather good sense (not always a mainstay of the thriller genre) regarding place, character and event. Things happen intelligently and quickly, as new characters (like the one played by Michael Imperioli, below) are introduced and dealt with.

Only in the final section does logic and gray matter lose out to some sort of: what? Producer-inspired insistence that everything must come down to a face-off between our two heroines and the bad guy? I'm just guessing, but the ending -- while done with snappy style and enough pizzazz to carry us along, sailing on the good will that the movie has so far built up -- is ludicrous and unbelievable.

Overall, though, The Call is so exciting, well-written (by Richard D'Ovidio), -directed and -acted that I think you'll be (mostly) glad you watched. (That's Morris Chestnut, left, with David Otunga, doing the police thing, above.)

From TriStar Pictures (it's always good to see that flying horse again) and running a crisp 94 minutes, the movie came to DVD and Blu-ray (on which it looks quite sleek) this week, for sale and rental.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION: Jamie Kastner's nostalgic doc with booty & a beat

A very fun, pretty funny, uber-nostaligic documentary that offers up an interesting theory -- political, social, revolutionary -- of the 1970s disco craze (and then politely puts it to rest), THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION is shoo-in viewing for gays of a certain age, celebrity addicts or anyone of any sexual persuasion who liked to dance themselves crazy back in the day. It combines everything from talking heads to archival footage, social theory (most noticeably and intelligently from Alice Echols) and -- ah, yes -- those famous disco songs and performers to silly, sweet effect that will probably have you tapping your toes and grinning fairly often throughout.

The brainchild of one Jamie Kastner (shown at left), who wrote and directed, perhaps the oddest and most interesting feature of the doc is his introduction of a trio of "masterminds," as he calls them (shown below and at bottom) -- a black man, a gay man and a woman, supposedly representing the three groups for whom disco accomplished the most "liberation." These three appear regularly throughout the film, though it seems more and more clear as the movie progresses that Kastner sees these masterminds as pseudo: comic material rather than anything remotely real or genuinely important. And for those viewers who might have taken all this seriously, his question to many of the talking heads at the film's close makes it more than clear that the disco revolution may have been fun and different and ground-breaking in certain ways, but it had little to do with revolution or protest.

Instead, it and the film that covers it, are all about beat, drugs, the expending of energy, and selling records (those, junior, are what we had to listen to, back in the day). Reference is made to France under the Nazis, Swing Kids and other historical matters, but what we really want to hear and learn about are all those great songs.

Fortunately, the filmmaker gives them to us, if not full-length, with enough time so we recall why they were such hits. Here come Gloria Gaynor (in the penultimate photo, below), Thelma Houston (at right), Martha Wash and Maxine Nightingale -- to name a few, showing us their style, then and now.

And while reference is made to other big names ("To get from Aretha Franklin to Lil' Kim, you can't understand this without disco!"), we pretty much keep with the disco beat.

The funniest section, in fact, may be that involving The Village People (above) trying to convince us that their songwriters/
composers had no ability to handle double entendres. We always suspected these guys were on the dumb side, but, please!

We also learn that, for maybe the first time in modern music history, songs found themselves listed on the Billboard magazine chart due to their being played not on radio but in the clubs that were forming around the country. After that, of course, radio DJs joined in the celebration. When, as ever, the music industry -- just like the movie industry regarding any popular new idea -- tried to jump on the disco bandwagon, the music grew shoddier and shoddier. And when the nation's, maybe the world's, most famous disco club, Studio 54, came on the scene (with its paean to celebrity, drugs, and shutting "ordinary" people out) one day, nearly overnight it seemed, disco disappeared.

The movie finally evokes all of this -- plus a nod to Ecclesiastes ("There is a time to expand and a time to contract") -- as it combines history, sleaze, music, energy, dance and drugs. It's a lot of fun, a crock of shit, and above all a great nostalgia trip, and it opens this Friday, June 28, in eleven cities across the country.

Here in New York City, it plays at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's NoHo 7. Look for it, as well, in San Francisco at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema, in Berkeley atthe Landmark Shattuck Cinemas, in Minneapolis at the Landmark Lagoon Cinema, in Seattle at the Landmark Varsity Theater, in Miami at the O Cinema, in Fort Lauderdale at the Cinema Paradiso. in  Palm Springs at the Camelot Theater, in Portland at the Clinton Street Theater and in Columbus at the Gateway Film Center.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Wainwrights honor mom with Lunson's SING ME the SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU


It's an odd but interesting experience to first become acquainted with a songwriter/
performer via the memorial concert that honors her life and death. Yet that's how it was for TrustMovies, as he watched the new musical documentary SING ME THE SONGS THAT SAY I LOVE YOU: A CONCERT FOR KATE McGARRIGLE. He'd heard McGarrigle's name over time but did not know she was the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, but he had also not heard any of her songs that he was aware of. So the movie proved to be a kind of simultaneous introduction and good-bye.

Speaking quite honestly, it took me some time during this 108-minute film -- co-written (with the Wainwright siblings), directed and edited by Lian Lunson (shown at left) -- to warm up to the subject and her music. I finally did, more and more as the documentary moved on, and I am very glad I saw it. I believe that Sing/Love/Kate (as I'll call it for the sake of space) will prove something major for McGarrigle's many fans and might bring in some new ones like me, if they can be persuaded to see it. Ms Lunson has shot her film and the concert from which it is mostly taken in both color and black-and-white. Initially, it seems that color is used for the concert footage and black-and-white for the interviews and archival footage. But this division eventually crumbles, as black-and-white is used more and more often throughout.

Archival footage -- moving pictures and stills, even a letter from Daddy -- are shown and sometimes spoken, often against the music and song that McGarrigle created, and between the performance of the many musical numbers, we hear the assembled parties talk about Kate and her life and her music. (I realize that fans and friends will undoubtedly know who all these people are, but I wish that Ms Lunson has identified them more often as her movie unfurled.)

Evidently, this is one big musical family, where everyone was expected to join in, and some of the remembrances, especially by Rufus, are odd, charming and funny. Despite all this, the movie, so far as regards Kate McGarrigle, comes across as surprisingly impersonal. At the end of it, I had little more knowledge of the woman than I had at the beginning, though I at least have begun to know her music. This may be because the filmmakers already knew all this information, as do probably her many friends and fans. But movie audiences with less history could have used a boost.

Still, as this is basically a concert film, it's the music that counts most, and here, the movie hits it in spades. There are songs not only written by Kate McGarrigle but by others in the family (Heart Like a Wheel), and the performers who sing them include not only family members such as Rufus, Martha and Kate's sisters Anna and Jane but friends like Emmylou Harris and Norah Jones (above) -- not to mention a surprise visit and song from Jimmy Fallon and another wonderful performer who had me asking, "Is that a man or a woman?" When the end credits rolled I realized who this was: Justin Vivian Bond.

Some of the songs, to my taste were were a little tiresome and repetitive (you can often complete Kate's lyrics upon hearing the song for the first time), but others seemed quite wonderful -- Mendocino, Proserpina (the final song that Kate wrote, a lovely rendition of the Persephone myth), and that terrific song by Ms/Mr. Bond. Some of the harmonies we hear are simply gorgeous, and each performer -- family member or friend -- has his/her own distinctive style, with Rufus' coming through perhaps the strongest.

This fellow (shown above with Martha and further above, solo) has always struck me as something of a drama queen, but seeing as how this is all about his late mother, why not? Tears flow rather copiously from many of the performers throughout the film, until the concert doubles as a kind of musical "wake." And the story told here of Kate's final time is undeniably moving -- as is the final photo we see of the artist as a young woman, below.

Sing/Love/Kate -- a Canadian film via Horse Pictures that runs 108 minutes -- opens today for a two-week stint at New York City's Film Forum. Elsewhere? I would hope so -- certainly around Canada, if not the USA. I can't find the web site for Horse Pictures to check further, so if any of you know where that can be found, inform me.

Monday, June 24, 2013

3D/Blu-ray/DVD debut: Juan Solanas' silly, but visually breathtaking, UPSIDE DOWN

Sometimes just watching a beauti-fully produced set of visuals -- unique, colorful, strange -- is enough to capture you. For awhile, at least. So it is with UPSIDE DOWN, just out tomorrow on Blu-ray, DVD and in 3D (for the few who now own 3D TVs). Given a limited release here in the USA this past March, the movie is quite lovely to look at and utterly nonsensical, even once you are told -- via a hunk of exposition at the film's beginning -- the story of the dual societies inhabiting the same universe that gives the film its understandable title and immediately brings to mind, of course, class, cultural and economic differences.

Writer/director Juan Solanas (shown at right) deserves a hunk of credit for coming up with a creation this visually enticing, but then should get maybe a sharp slap for filling his canvas with such a trite little love story. Fortunately, he has cast his film with some very appealing actors: Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst in the lead roles and Timothy Spall shining in the good supporting cast. Sturgess, hugely likable as always, does a lot toward holding us on his side. That's he, below, defying gravity in the "other" world, in a scene that may have you fondly remembering John Carter (a fun film you really should see, despite its quite undeserved reputation).

Ms. Dunst, below, also acquits herself sweetly as the other half of the romantic equation. But not nearly enough thought has gone into the "story" -- how these two meet, are torn apart and then meet again -- to make the movie work as well as it ought.

You'll probably stick with it, however, due to those ace visuals (which look marvelous in Blu-ray, and maybe pretty nice in 3D, too), and to the story, dumb as it is, which at least sticks to its guns regarding its theme of not just Romeo & Juliet lovers but Romeo & Juliet societies, longing, without maybe realizing it, to be made whole. The ending hints at this possibility rather nicely, so despite my caveats, I was glad I stuck with Upside Down. Given the importance of interesting visuals, coupled to your own political philosophy, you might, too.

From Millennium Entertainment (and some others companies), the movie (plus 70 minutes of bonus material) hits the street Tuesday, June 25 in several formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, 3D/2D Blu-Ray, 3D/2D Blu-Ray + DVD, and even via VOD and/or DVD & Blu-Ray rentals. Consult your favorite movie outlet and pick your choice.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Could an hour be spent any better than at Christine Turner's HOMEGOINGS? Nope.


The film is only 57 minutes long, but my god, how much worthwhile thought and genuine emotion is produced here! HOMEGOINGS -- a documentary about a couple of funeral homes (one in Harlem, the other in Branchville, South Carolina), the man who started them, his family and the clients he serves -- is one whopper of an experience: the kind of film you finish shaking your head (and maybe a few tears away) in wonderment, thinking, "Who'd have imagined this?"  Initially, you might think you've stepped into something like a black version of Bernie, Richard Linklater's marvelous movie about a famous funeral director in Texas. But, no, this is a quiet little documentary, and an amazingly good one, too.

As directed by filmmaker Christine Turner, shown at left, the film offers our current, multicolored citizenry (especially those who tend, as so many of us do, to avoid ruminating on the eventuality of our oncoming death) the chance to experience a side of black culture that we seldom see. Sure, the funeral procession that climaxes Imitation of Life still moves us and speaks volumes, but here we see that -- and so much more.

In telling the story of Isaiah Owens (above, shown plying his trade) -- a South Carolina boy who was, as he explains, "just born to do what I'm doin'," which is, of course, arranging for the funerals of his peers and preparing their bodies for a final showing -- Ms Turner, Mr. Owens, and his family and friends manage quite a feat: They demystify death to a surprising degree, helping turn it into something not so dreaded nor fearsome -- even as they give the ol' grim reaper his due respect.

From almost the beginning -- as we hear a simply terrific and funny eulogy and know the service is going to prove, as one of the mourners explains it, "a sad good time" -- we're laughing along with the rest of the assembled crowd, and then suddenly find ourselves quite moved. The movie keeps working this kind of sly magic. Owens' own father was a sharecropper, so we also learn a little history of how those people paid for funerals back in the day.

Ms Turner never pushes this, but her film also gives us a sense of the injustice of racism as experienced over decades. "For blacks," one person notes, "death brings us justice." (How many whites do you imagine think of their life in this way?) We also get a strong sense of how the current economy is effecting the funeral business. A big funeral is very expensive, as we learn early in the film, when a woman nicknamed "Red" plans her own with the help of Mr. Owens. By the time she's done, the bill has totaled almost $10,000.  In the past few years, however, funeral services are happening less often. People still die, of course, but direct cremation is a cheaper option, followed by a memorial service -- if it can be afforded at all.

Toward the end of the documentary, we hear from a young man about the death of his grandmother, how amazingly caring his grandfather was as his wife entered a rest home, and what followed after her death. This small, short section is one of the more moving I can recall -- about long-term love, commitment and loss. Isaiah's mother, already in her mid 90s when the film was made, thinks back to her son's early days (when he was giving the local animals funeral services) and tells us, "I don't know where he got it from. He was a mess, but that was his calling."

Isaiah himself is clearly aware of what it means to be constantly in the presence of death, and what this does to you. As he puts it, "I'm always at my funeral." Homegoings, from Peralta Pictures, opens a week-long theatrical run tomorrow -- Monday, June 24 -- at the Maysles Cinema, as part of its Documentary in Bloom series. It will also have it television broadcast premiere the same day via PBS' POV documentary series.

Note: Homegoings will be available for digital rental via 
Vimeo on Demand beginning Feb. 18, 2014, 
and is available for pre-order now at www.homegoings.com.

Decline & fall of the music industry, as seen in Alex Winter's Napster doc DOWNLOADED

OK: so it's not as glossy or superbly cast as The Social Network. Yet DOWNLOADED -- the new documen-tary about the rise and fall of Napster, written, directed and produced by Alex Winter (that's right: the star of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) -- is a much more interesting and important tale than that of the Facebook story. The two movies share a character, too: Sean Parker, who partnered in the creation of Napster prior to his involvement in Facebook. While Mr. Parker proves a whirl-a-gig of verbiage and energy (he rarely shuts up), the quieter character, Shawn Fanning (who created Napster) is the one you'll find it hard to take your eyes off.

TrustMovies is not sure what possessed Mr. Winter (shown at left) to embark on this doc (maybe his love of music and/or hatred of the original pirates of the industry, those very large music companies and their masters). Whatever -- he has put together a consistently enthralling look at Napster and its most important workers, how and why the idea (and later the company itself) came about, how it grew and grew until it boasted 50 million users and then... Well, if its amazing two-year history (yes: It lasted only from June 1999 through July 2001) somehow passed you by, it is all here in this 107-minute movie. And however you may feel about the company and its maybe-not-all-that-well-thought-out "purpose" going into the film, I can almost guarantee you'll feel at least a little differently coming out.

The Napster boys we meet (that's Shawn Fanning, above) are, without exception, smart, fun, excited by what they're doing and relatively charming (as geeks of this ilk go). And though I must say that it struck me almost from the first minute I heard about Napster and what it was doing, it appears that the thought of "copyright infringement" did not occur to these guys, at least for awhile, as their company was growing by leaps and bounds. (It certainly occurred to them later on, for, as Sean Parker, shown below, tells us toward the end of the film, the term "pirating music" was forbidden verbiage around headquarters.) In any case, it seems clear now that the thrill and excitement of simply being able to do what they did -- bringing all sorts of music, free, to millions -- overran any worries about morality or fears of prosecution.

All this happened at the turn of this Millennium, as technology of every sort seemed to be burgeoning, with not even the sky the limit. When the behemoth (some might call them dinosaurs) record companies -- slow, stupid and hugely uncooperative with each other ("You couldn't get those guys to agree that today was Wednesday!" notes one speaker) -- finally understood what was happening, without the necessary cooperation that might have given birth to a new and hugely successful means of bringing music to the masses, all the big boys wanted to do was to kill the upstart.

How they did it is shown in all its miserable glory, with the music industry looking shoddy and shameful, even as many of our elected politicians appear to be -- it is possible? -- actually intelligent. Meanwhile, records stores (above) disappeared, even as record moguls continued to live rather well. And the protesting of performers like Dr. Dre and Metallica only added to the bizarre mix of motives and actions. (Both the doc and those metal boys received a million bucks from Napster, even as the company was going under).

It's all here, and lots more, and through it all, the one presence that grounds the movie is that of Mr. Fanning, below, whose story, more than anyone else's, this is. He goes and grows from a gifted, geeky kid to a more mature and seasoned fellow, who also seems awfully sad. But why not? Look what he accomplished and lost, and what an opportunity there was for something amazing for performers and music lovers worldwide. Ah, well. Next time.

Downloaded opened this past Friday at Manhattan’s Village East Cinema and will hit Los Angeles' Sundance Sunset Cinemas on Friday, June 28. Additional theatrical bookings are also scheduled for cities around the country through mid-August, in partnership with specialty distributor Richard Abramowitz of Abramorama. On July 1, the film will debut on all leading On-Demand platforms, in partnership with digital entertainment curator FilmBuff.